Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala is famous for its many churches, but surprisingly what has made Thrissur world-famous is the holy temple of Shiva, the Vadakkunathan temple, and its Thrissur Pooram.
The Vadakkunathan temple is one of the oldest temples in the state and is a superb example of the Kerala school of architecture, with three tiled roofs that are synonymous with this style. This temple plays host to the world famous Thrissur Pooram (festival), where one can see thirty elephants congregating at one time. The temple has been declared a national monument by the central government.
There is a maidan or empty land in front of the temple where the Pooram takes place. According to a legend, King Sakthanthampuran ordered the forest that surrounded the temple to be cleared because a branch brushed against his palanquin, causing the formation of the maidan. It was Sakthanthampuran who gave full powers to the two temples of Thiruvambadi and Paramekavu to conduct the Thrissur Pooram in a manner befitting mighty kings. The onus of conducting the celebration falls on these two temples to this day. In fact the schedule of the thirty-six hour-long program is said to have been drawn up by Sakthanthampuran himself.
The temple has a small auditorium or performing theatre, Kuthambalam, where ancient art forms are performed. It is also the venue for Koodiyattam, a classical dance dating back at least two thousand years. The saint Adi Shankaracharya spent his last few days in this temple.
The mother of all Poorams is the Thrissur Pooram, a people’s festival cutting through caste and religion that falls in the month of April. It is conducted by the active participation of the people of Thrissur. In fact people who have moved out from Thrissur come back year after year to conduct and take part in the Pooram; such is the greatness of this festival.
The festival comprises a procession of bejeweled and caparisoned elephants to the accompaniment of drums, exchanges of parasols atop the elephants and a display of fireworks. The festival begins with ezhinellippu or ‘the visit’ to the Kanimangalam Shasta followed by the ezhinellippu of six other minor temples. The ezhinellippu is a ritual symbolizing the visit of the Devi or the Goddess from the Paramekavu and the Thiruvambadi temples to the Vadakkunathan temple.
One of the highlights of this festival is the participation of two hundred artistes in the disciplines of thimila, maddalam, trumpet, cymbal and edakka, in the Panchavadyam or the orchestra of five instruments. Towards noon one can hear the Pandemelam or the orchestra of the drums, pipe, trumpets and cymbals. The finale of the festival is the bidding of farewell to the deities of the Thiruvambadi and Paramekavu temples in front of the western gate of the Vadakkunathan temple.
Fifteen elephants from the Thiruvambadi temple and the same number from the Paramekavu temples are made to stand in front of each other and to the beat of the percussionists there is a colourful display of ‘Kodamattom’ or the exchanging of umbrellas or parasols. This is a competition of sorts and people are wonderstruck at the multihued parasol exchanges between the two devaswoms.
The grand finale is the mind boggling display of fireworks which draws many ‘oohs and aahs’ from the crowd, adding to the popularity of this mighty festival.
The secular nature of this festival is its highlight and the fact that Muslims and Christians take an active part should be an eye opener for various other celebrations in the country. Thrissur Pooram is indeed the mother of all Poorams in every sense of the word! Can you think of any other festivals that cut across religious barriers?